Superfund Research Program

December 2018

Poplar trees

SRP small business grantees at Edenspace Systems Corporation developed a method using endophytes, symbiotic microbes that live within plants, to boost poplar trees' speed and effectiveness at capturing and removing trichloroethylene (TCE) from groundwater and then degrading it.

Technology The endophyte strain used in the research was isolated by Sharon Doty, Ph.D., professor at the University of Washington and partner on the small business project. It was taken from poplar trees exhibiting high rates of TCE degradation on sites with TCE contamination.

Edenspace conducted the first large-scale experiment on a Superfund site using poplar trees fortified with the endophyte to clean up TCE-contaminated groundwater. By inoculating poplar trees with the specific endophyte strain, the researchers successfully showed that the endophyte-assisted poplars quickly and effectively removed TCE, decreasing concentrations in groundwater from 300 to 5 micrograms per liter.
Innovation According to the researchers, this method offers a readily deployable, cost-effective, and sustainable approach for degrading TCE and has the potential to make a huge impact on Superfund and other hazardous waste sites with TCE-contaminated groundwater. Endophytes live within the plant and, therefore, are expected to persist in the trees at the site, continuing to degrade TCE as long as their host plant survives.
Contaminant and Media Trichloroethylene in groundwater
Principal Investigator Michael J. Blaylock, Ph.D.
Institution Edenspace Systems Corporation
Grant Number R44ES020099